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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in public theology (42)

Tuesday
Jun102014

Rev Dr Mvume Dandala on the Church as the hope for South Africa in the next decades

This year, 2014, marks 20 years since the dawn of participative democracy in South Africa.  There is little doubt that 1994 heralded the dawning of a new era in South Africa. We are better off in so many ways - all of our citizens have equal status before the law. We have made positive gains in health care for all, education for all, and in general South Africans have a higher life expectancy and even have better economic prospects.  See the OECD Better Life Index report for more details [1].

The reality is, however, that even though we are doing better, we are not nearly where we should be as a nation.  We have some serious problems - HIV and TB continue to have a huge impact on the average South African.  Moreover, South Africa has the highest GINI coefficient (we have the highest rate of inequality between the rich and the poor) in the world.  This means that unemployemt remains a problem, crime is difficult to manage and the majority of South Africans are still living in poverty [2].

All of this is compounded by ongoing human rights abuses and continuing corruption in government and the private sector.

My paper on Thursday will discuss these issues in detail using some of the most recent statistics from early 2014.

I will, however, also focus on the role of the Church in addressing these economic, social and political issues. South Africa remains a largely religious society, if the Church is doing its work we should be engaging the moral character of our citizens, and positively engaging issues justice.  I will post my talk once it has been delivered and published.

Dr Dandala did an excellent plenary talk this morning.  He spoke very strongly about the African nature and character that is required of the Church in South African society.  His talk was an acceptable challenge.  I recorded it and got his permission to post it here.

You can download Rev Dr Mvume Dandala's talk at the Stellenbosch University, Ekklesia / Beyers Naude Winter School on 10 June 2014 here (45MB MP3).

If you use or distribute the talk would you mind please referencing Dr Dandala and linking back here to www.dionforster.com?

_____

[1] OECD, OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa 2013 (OECD Publishing, 2013); OECD, How’s Life? 2013, How’s Life? (OECD Publishing, 2013), 17–31, http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/economics/how-s-life-2013_9789264201392-en#page1.

[2] Please see the World Bank report on global inequality here:  http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI South Africa has a GINI coefficient of 63.1, which was the highest in the world at the time of the report in 2009.

Wednesday
May282014

Why Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is wrong - law infused by religion is a bad idea

 

 

The lead story in the news this morning (28 May 2014) is a report that South Africa's Chief Justice, Hon Mogoeng Mogoeng, wants to "infuse laws with religion" to raise the moral fibre of the nation. He was speaking at the Religion and Law Conference at the University where I teach (Stellenbosch University).

 

While most faiths do develop the moral fibre of their adherents, this is not something that should be put into law! Yes, faith has a public role, and should have positive effects on public life, but religion should not get preference from the legal system of a nation. The law is intended to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their religious perspective. Laws should be based on the principles of justice and our shared human dignity - whether a person has a religious belief system or not, or differs with the religious beliefs of a minority, or majority, of the population, their rights should be protected in law. Religion on the other hand is based on beliefs that are not commonly shared, in fact some beliefs may run contrary to our common human rights (like the treatment of women and girls in some faiths, or the disregard of the rights of persons with a same sex orientation). Most people who want religion to be enfranchised in law want their religion, or religious convictions, to occupy that privileged place. I am guessing that Judge Mogoeng inadvertently expressed such a view. Indeed, nations like South Africa are deeply religious, and so we must take note of religious convictions and religious groupings. But such individuals or groupings should not be accorded special place before the law. Civic organization should enjoy the same access to the law and the same rights and privileges as a religious organization.

This does not mean that religious persons and organizations have no role to play in society, or in serving the nation. Quite to the contrary, campaigns such as Unashamedly Ethical and EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption are wonderful examples of how people of faith are engaging social issues. The law protects their right to express their views and gather others to encourage them to change their values and behaviour. It was not always so in South Africa, a government that called itself 'Christian' oppressed its citizens, robbing them of their rights and dignity. No, we need a just, ethical, secular state that protects the rights of all citizens, including those who are religious, to be able to express their views in society.
By a secular state I do not mean a state that relegates faith from the public sphere and confines it only to the private realm.  Rather, I think of a secular state as one similar to that espoused in the constitution of South Africa - that is a state that is not partisan to any one religious group, or to persons with no faith perspective. Such a state recognises the importance of faith in shaping people's lives, their values, choices and actions, and so protects that right. Yet it does not accord higher value to any one group than another.

 

A religious state is a bad idea! I developed this idea in my recent book 'Between Capital and Cathedral: Essays on Church and State Relationships' (co authored with my friend from UNISA, Dr Wessel Bentley).

 

On the issue of a Christian government in any nation - I personally believe it is naive of believers of any faith to think that having persons of their faith persuasion in power will make things better for all. What Christians should pray for, and work for, is a just, ethical and unbiased government that looks out for the interests of all of the citizens of their nation. It is the role of the Church and believers to bring people to faith, that is not the role of the government. We should not long for a modern form of Constantinianism. Faith driven political agendas are destructive to faith and society.

 

Here's my view.


  • You don't want an anti-religious government (like that in the former USSR or China, where people of faith are persecuted). Faith is an important part of life. People should have the freedom to practise their faith as long as it does not destroy the rights of others.

  • You certainly also don't want a religious government (we have simply seen too many of these kinds of governments abusing people! Governments like those in Iran, and even the calls for 'religiously sanctioned wars and killings' in America which have confused religion with foreign and public policy) are harmful to faith and society! The problem with a religious government is that politicians are seldom 'religious persons' first and politicians second. Most politicians are politicians first, and they hold some religious conviction when it suits them. Also, if the religion in power is not your religion, or they belong to a different expression of your faith (e.g., Catholic instead of Protestant, or Suni Muslim instead of Sufi...) it can become extremely abusive. I certainly believe that we should have Christians in government, they should be salt and light! But, I don't believe that the Church should abdicate its role and function to the state.

  • No, I believe that one should work for an honest, impartial, just, servant minded secular state. A state that will protect and uphold the rights of all of its citizens, giving equal space for all to exercise their positive beliefs. Such a state serves the nation well and protects the freedom and rights of its citizens to live out their faith convictions within society. We have just such a system in South Africa. It can be uncomfortable for extremists and fundamentalists. But, I believe, as a Christian, it is the way of Jesus to make space for others. Let our love, not our laws, win the hearts and minds of those who hold different convictions from our own. I will write some more about this in the weeks to come.

Some years ago I was privileged to hear a lecture by Professor Martin Prozesky at the Joint Conferences on Religion and Theology at Stellenbosch University. The title of his lecture was the following: 'Is the secular state to blame for the decline in moral values in Southern African society'.

I recorded the lecture using my Macbook - so the sound quality is not all that great. It is not all that bad, but there were some instances when a few desks and chairs were moved in order to get some extra persons into the venue who arrived late. So please just skip through those bits.


The gist of the lecture is this: Does a secular state contribute towards the decline of moral and ethical values? Many religious groups and faith communities would seem to suggest that this is so. Martin makes an exceptional argument that a secular state (not to be confused with secularization) makes for a high moral and ethical standard in society.

The reasons, as stated above, is quite simply that the only alternatives to a secular state (i.e., a state that his not swayed in an direction by religious beliefs) is a theocracy (such as nations in which Islamic law is applied in the name of God), a anti-faith states (such as the USSR under Karl Marx). Neither of these are desirable for truly moral and ethical development. Rather, what is necessary is the kind of freedom that allows all citizens to participate in developing ethics for the common good of the whole of society.

He makes some wonderful statements about what ethics is in its broadest terms. He also discusses the notion of a secular state and makes reference to problems with Southern African constitutional democracy.

I found it most interesting! I would love to hear your comments and feedback!

Here's the lecture - it is a 10MB mp3 file.

If you do use this lecture or download and share it could I please ask that you reference it to Professor Martin Prozesky, 22 June 2009 (Stellenbosch), and also please send a link back to me here at http://www.dionforster.com


Thanks!

 

Tuesday
May272014

Inspired by the prophetic ministry of Rev Prof Peter Storey

I spent most of this morning interviewing Rev Prof Peter Storey about his role in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.

He was Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe's chaplain on Robben Island. His life and ministry are a strong witness to courage, peaceable, work for God's Kingdom on earth.

His deep faith in Christ the motivation for his tireless work for justice, transformation and reconciliation in South Africa, frequently at great personal cost and threat to his safety.

It was inspiring listening to his life's story and ministry. He indicated that his ministry was shaped by the question 'What would it mean to be faithful to Christ in this situation?' The courage to ask that question, answer it honestly, and live the answer, is a spiritual discipline that will surely result in justice being served and God being honoured.

Saturday
May102014

The coolest #selfie ever! Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu

Today (10 May) marks the birth of one of the most remarkable and courageous Christian witnesses of our time - Beyers Naudé. Oom Bey (uncle Bey, as he was affectionately known) was a Christian minister who faced persecution. Y his countrymen, censure by both the Church and the state, and alienation from friends and the broader community for his witness and work against racial oppression in South Africa. At great personal cost he chose the good of others over his own. This wonderful #selfie of Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu is actually a photoshopped picture from this website (there are a few other really cool pictures there, such a Winston Churchill, Jacky Kenedy, and even their Majesties William and Kate!) This image was originally a picture of Oom Bey and Archbishop Tutu on the occasion of the Arch being awarded the Nobel peace prize. Happy birthday Oom Bey! Today I give thanks for your life and witness and pray that many more women and men would follow your example in South Africa, and elsewhere across the world! I am privileged to be a member of the Beyers Naudé center for public theology at the University of Stellenbosch. The center continues to honour the legacy of Oom Bey by working with the Church and broader society across South Africa (and even the world) to advocate for justice, foster reconciliation and present the possibility of God's Kingdom of justice, peace and wholeness for all people.
Thursday
Jan022014

The dawning of a new era - Stellenbosch University

Today a new era dawned in my ministry and working life - on the 2nd of January 2014 I arrived at Stellenbosch University at around 7.50am to move into my new office in the Faculty of Theology.  

Yesterday my appointment as Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Ethics (with a focus on Public Theology) came into effect! I am truly grateful for this magnificent opportunity to serve the Church and society in the academy!

I am so excited about what the future holds in this new post! For some years I have been attached to the faculty as a staff member in Ekklesia (the Center for Leadership and Congregational) - however, this new post is as a full time academic with both undergraduate and post graduate teaching and research responsibilities.

I will be teaching Ethics and Systematic Theology and will have a particular focus on the Church's role in the various 'public' spaces of society (politics, economics, health care, education, the arts and many others).  This is where most of my attention and energy has been focussed in the last decades.  The Unashamedly Ethical and EXPOSED 'Shining a light on corruption' campaigns have aimed at precisely this, to support and empower the Church for making a positive contribution to the transformation of the nation and the world.

So, today I moved my stuff from my 'old office' in the Ekklesia side of the faculty building into the 'faculty' side of the building (which is pictured above - I took this photo about three years ago.  Isn't it a beautiful building?) Each of the departments are clustered together, and I am in the section for Systematic Theology, Church History, Ethics and Ecclesiology. It is a beautiful sunny office with rows and rows of book shelves and lots of wood - befitting the historical look of the Kweekskool buildings.

My prayer for this new sesion in my ministry is that I will have an opportunity to serve both the Church and the nation in developing critical though and ideas, useful tools, and well trained people who can bring about transformation and the renewal of society for the sake of justice and grace.

I am inspired by the following quote from a speech that former President Nelson Mandela gave at the Methodist Conference in Umtata on 18 September 1994:

One cannot over-emphasise the contribution that the religious community made particularly in ensuring that our transition achieves the desired result. The spirit of reconciliation and the goodwill within the nation can, to a great measure, be attributed to the moral and spiritual interventions of the religious community.

Now that a major part of the journey towards democracy has been traversed, new and more difficult tasks lie ahead of us. For, political democracy will be empty and meaningless, if the misery of the majority of the people is not addressed.

The Church, like all other institutions of civil society, must help all South Africans to rise to the challenge of freedom. As South Africa moves from resistance to reconstruction and from confrontation to reconciliation, the energy that was once dedicated to breaking apartheid must be harnessed to the task of building the nation.

I would appreciate your prayers for me, and of course also for Megie, Courtney and Liam, as this new phase in our lives takes shape.

I will remain the Chairman of the Board of 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' as our team works towards the G20 meetings in Australia in November 2014.  In addition to that I will also serve on one or two other boards (Unashamedly Ethical, the Power Group Charitable Trust, Half Time and Alpha).

Thursday
May262011

Public theology - would the world be a better place without Christians?

This exceptional article by Clint le Bruyns, a public theologian from the University of Stellenbosch, explores the nature of theology as public discourse.  It makes for wonderful reading.

However, what struck me most about the article is the opening paragraph of two... In those paragraphs he comments an a recent parody post by an atheist who suggests that the world would be a better place if Christians were removed from it... Less wars, less consumption, better use of the earth's resources, and less nonsensical and irrational thought.

I was deeply challenged by this.  I'd love to hear your perspective on that particular thought (please read the article first!) and Clint's article in general.  What do you think, would the world be a better place without Christians?

Here's the first part of the article, please click the link at the end to read the rest.

Isn’t it ironic that just a week ago there was much ado about recent eschatological predictions that the world as we know it was starting to come to a dramatic end through the so-called ‘rapture’ event on May 21, 2011, at which time the faithful community of believers would be rescued from this earth to be taken up to heaven? A parody of the predicted event was posted the same day onYoutube by ‘The Thinking Atheist’.[1] The clip is titled “After the Rapture”[2] and begins with the mischievous claim that the prediction had actually come to pass. “Everything has changed. It is now a world without Christians”, it quipped, news which was being received around the world with “a sense of joy, of jubilation, of freedom” as “the world unites in celebration”. It explains the reason for this as follows:

Christian homes suddenly empty are now providing free clothing, furniture and appliances to be donated to the poor. The dramatic decrease in motor vehicles on the road is decreasing the demand for fossil fuels, driving gas prices down…. Prison populations have virtually disappeared. Recycled Bibles are now being used to make juice and milk containers for schoolchildren. Former religious institutions are now being used for exploration, health, science and recreation. Our planet now has more money, more food, more space, more resources, more education, and more common sense than ever experienced in recorded history.

 

Here's the video he refers to.

Read more here...

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